Task specificity impacts dual-task interference in older adults Academic Article uri icon


  • Background

    Task prioritization is an important factor determines the magnitude and direction of dual-task interference in older adults. Greater dual-task cost during walking may lead to falling, sometimes causing lasting effects on mobility.


    We investigated dual-task interference for walking and cognitive performance.


    Twenty healthy, older adults (71 ± 5 years) completed three cognitive tasks: letter fluency, category fluency, and serial subtraction during seated and walking conditions on a self-paced treadmill for 3 min each, in addition to walking only condition. Walking speed, step length and width were measured during walking and each dual-task condition.


    Comparing the percentage of correct answers in cognitive tasks across single and dual-task conditions, there was a main effect of cognitive task (p = 0.021), showing higher scores during letter fluency compared to serial subtraction (p = 0.011). Step width was significantly wider during dual-task letter fluency compared to walking alone (p = 0.003), category fluency (p = 0.001), and serial subtraction (p = 0.007).


    During both fluency tasks, there was a cost for gait and cognition, with category showing a slightly higher cognitive cost compared to letter fluency. During letter fluency, to maintain cognitive performance, gait was sacrificed by increasing step width. During serial subtraction, there was a cost for gait, yet a benefit for cognitive performance.


    Differential effect of cognitive task on dual-task performance is critical to be understood in designing future research or interventions to improve dual-task performance of most activities of daily living.

author list (cited authors)

  • Fallahtafti, F., Boron, J. B., Venema, D. M., Kim, H. J., & Yentes, J. M.

publication date

  • January 1, 2020 11:11 AM